Thursday, February 3, 2011

Early Days

I longed for a close friend at the same time I longed to be left alone and to get away from people. I longed for privacy as we lived in what seemed like a glass bowl, under everyone’s observation, on the first floor of the Foreign Students’ dormitory at Tianjin Normal University where every fussy moment was heard and discussed in the lobby (where the old men working there liked to tell us that our baby had been crying for half a day), where Charly and I used the building phone in that very public lobby before the school provided a phone in our own room during our 3rd year, where knocks at our door (announcing a phone call or visitors) often seemed to come when I was already in my pajamas, where Charly’s students came by at anytime (often in groups of 8) and crowded onto our bed to visit, where I felt stared at wherever we went and curious people often formed a crowd around us, touching CJ and giving advice.

Now I know that Chinese advice is a way of expressing love and concern for us. But at the time it felt like people were always pointing out what I was doing wrong as a mother (and I could understand less than half of what they were saying!). When we had been here for 8 months, CJ had an ear infection on his first birthday and a rash that everyone in the building was telling us what we should do about. I wrote in my journal on June 24, 1996, “I just wish they would all mind their own business and leave me alone…I don’t like being in China. I don’t know how I can make it here long-term.”

I was also struggling with fatigue and morning sickness (as I got pregnant with Joshua after we had been here 4 months), homesickness, feeling distant from God and from my busy husband, the dirtiness of our  2 room apartment, a fussy baby with an inflexible nap schedule, difficulty in communicating in Chinese, feeling inadequate trying to buy food and figuring out how to cook here, a lack of confidence relating with Charly’s students, and feeling on the edge of a breakdown.

On June 29, I wrote, “I just want to go somewhere where everything is comfortable and convenient, where no one stares at me and no one touches CJ, where we’re not “lao wai” (foreigners), where there are mountains and open countryside and I can truly be alone. I would love a day where I didn’t see anyone and didn’t have to interact with anyone…I’m tired and I just want a really good night’s sleep. I want a comfortable bed to sleep in. I really feel trapped here right now…Walking in the rain tonight made me think of my life being like a tree, where the leaves are supposed to form a shield and keep the rain from coming through, but there are all these spots that keep leaking.”

That summer Charly and I hosted a 6 week Summer Program of 6 American college students who studied Chinese on our campus and built friendships with Charly’s English students. Charly took them traveling to southern China for 10 days, and I stayed back in the dorm with CJ. My journal entries give testimony to God’s provision and blessing during that time (that I had been dreading) through a study on the different gospel accounts of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000. I am blessed again today 15 years later as I read what I wrote then and see what God was teaching me through my many struggles of living way out of my comfort zone…

“Come by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark ) Yes, that’s what my heart was crying for. I could relate with the disciples as they were hungry, exhausted, and needing a break from all the people coming and going. They were tired of giving and needed some rest and renewal. Time away with Jesus in a solitary place. But then the crowds came, and Jesus had compassion on them and began to teach them. By late afternoon, the disciples wanted to send the crowd away (I could really relate!) to get their own food. That was a logical response as the disciples reasoned it would take 8 months’ wages to buy that much food. Do you want us to spend that much on bread for them? But Jesus had another way and wanted to stretch them, to use them as active participants to meet the needs of the crowds, as He multiplied the 5 loaves and 2 fish that were available. Jesus taught the disciples to care for the crowds as He did, and then to experience His abundance as they collected 12 basketfuls of leftovers!.

As I have reentered into the challenges of my early days in Tianjin, God has reminded me of His great faithfulness. Yesterday, Isaiah 64:9, brought real encouragement to me: “In all their suffering he also suffered and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.”

God has lifted me up and has carried me through these past 15 years in Tianjin. I am grateful for all that He has done, and that it was my weaknesses that Jesus carried (Isaiah 53:4).


  1. This was fun for me to read, because I remember feeling some of the same things when we first moved to China. What a testimony of His faithfulness your life has been! I'm excited to see what He has in store for you after the big move. Happy Chinese New Year! Love to all 5 of you!

  2. Thanks for your note, Jillian! I am really encouraged by God's faithfulness in your life as well. It was great to see you last summer. Love to all of you from us...



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